The eviction of forty members of the Sabbagh family (including 30 children) from their home in Sheikh Jarrah is closer than ever. On November 15th, 2018, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the family’s appeal against a 2012 decision of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court that paved the way for the eviction (that petition was rejected based on the statute of limitations - for further details/links see here). On January 10, 2019, that same court rejected the family’s request to put the eviction on hold to allow for another hearing, ordering the family to leave within two weeks (by January 23).
NOTE: As of the day of publication of this analysis, the police have not yet enforced that eviction.
On January 22, officials from the UN and international NGOs visited the Sabbagh family, issuing a statement that closed by saying:
“We call on the Israeli authorities to immediately halt plans to evict the Sabbagh family to prevent further displacement of these refugees, cease settlement construction, and abide by their obligations as an occupying power under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”
For an excellent summary of the background in this case, see +972’s report - “After a decade, evictions set to return in Sheikh Jarrah.” In a nutshell:
The Sabbagh family are originally refugees from Jaffa who were resettled to Sheikh Jarrah by the Jordanian government and UNRWA. They moved to the building in which they currently live in Sheikh Jarrah in 1956.
Their building is located on land in Sheikh Jarrah that was purchased more than a century ago by two Jewish organizations, the Ashkenazi Community Council and the Sephardic Community Council, which established there a small Jewish community who lived in this area until the 1948 war.
After Israel took over the area in 1967, the Israel custodian of Absentee property took control of the land but did not evict its Palestinian residents.
- In 2003, a shadowy company called Nahalat Shimon Ltd. purchased the land on which the Sabbagh family lives from the Ashkenazi Community Council and the Sephardic Community Council.
- In 2008, Nahalat Shimon Ltd. filed a lawsuit at Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court seeking the eviction of the Sabbagh family and a neighbor, the Hamad family, based on its claim to own the land. Strong, organized, highly visible opposition, most notably weekly Friday demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah, succeeded in generating domestic and international interest and focus on the issue, delaying the evictions.
In 2012, notwithstanding public pressure (and with visible protests having dropped off over time) the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered the eviction of the Sabbagh family; the Sabbagh family subsequently appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court to stop the eviction.
In November 2019, the Israeli Supreme Court dismissed the family’s claim (which argued that Nahalat Shimon Ltd. did not have property rights over their building, since it was built under Jordanian rule - i.e., before Nahalat Shimon Ltd. bought the land). The court did not rule on the merits of that argument, instead rejecting it based on the statute of limitations - for further details/links see here.
Against the background of the Supreme Court decision and the threat of an imminent eviction, hundreds returned to demonstrate in Sheikh Jarrah.
The bigger picture
The tragedy affecting the Sabbagh family, whose members are about to become refugees for the second time, exemplifies the systematic discrimination inherent in Israeli law when it comes to the reclaiming of property rights. To put it simply: when it comes to property rights, Jews and Palestinians are manifestly unequal before the law.
- Israel law bars Palestinians - who fled or were compelled to leave their homes during the 1948 war - from reclaiming their property or seeking compensation for their losses. This means the Sabbagh family has no rights to the home they lost in Jaffa.
Israel law entitles Jews, in contrast, to reclaim property in East Jerusalem that they lost as a result of the 1948 war. It is this law that enables Nahalat Shimon Ltd. to evict the Sabbagh family. See here and here Peace Now’s comprehensive analysis for a more detailed review of these laws.
- Those seeking to reclaim historically Jewish property in East Jerusalem do not act on their own. Property rights are often acquired by companies and individuals aligned with the East Jerusalem settler organizations, which enjoy the backing of Israeli government authorities - including in their efforts to identify properties to which Jewish claims can be made. In effect, the settlers and government work together to exploit the “reclaiming” of Jewish property in order to expand the settlers’ hold in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem at the expense of the Palestinian population.
- As a result, families like the Sabbaghs, who have lived in their home for more than 60 years, are fighting a legal battle that is lost in advance.
The case of the Sabbagh family, as dire as their circumstances may be, is by no means unique. In the past year, the Government of Israel, in conjunction with settler organizations, has instituted eviction proceedings against many tens of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and the Batan al Hawa quarter of Silwan. Hundreds of families and thousands of individuals are at risk. Israel is on the cusp of implementing large scale displacement of Palestinians on a scope unprecedented since 1967. The Sabbagh family eviction portends this new wave of large-scale displacement.
We will be taking a harder, more comprehensive look at the new eviction policies in Sheikh Jarrah and Batan al Hawa in an upcoming edition of “Insiders’ Jerusalem.”
For additional reporting and links, see this report from the Foundation for Middle East Peace.